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NEWS ANALYSIS: How Feinstein Won Citywide Mandate

By Jorge Casuso

When Councilman Michael Feinstein picked up the gavel to chair his first meeting as Santa Monica's new mayor last week, he did so with strong support citywide, including in areas dominated by homeowners.

A precinct-by-precinct analysis by The Lookout showed Feinstein -- who ran on the powerful Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights slate -- won 53 of the city's 66 precincts in the November 7 race for four open City Council seats.

A national Green Party leader, Feinstein won handedly with 21,084 total votes, followed by fellow SMRR incumbents Richard Bloom with 19,343 votes, and former mayor Ken Genser with 17,596. Herb Katz, who had previously served two terms on the council, finished fourth with 14,283 votes.

The following factors may have contributed to Feinstein's strong showing:

  • While all three incumbents benefited from SMRR's hefty war chest (the group had raised $119,571 as of Oct. 21, the deadline for filing the latest campaign finance disclosure statement), Feinstein had raised $31,563, thanks to a $15,000 personal loan. That compared to Bloom's $20,088 and Genser's $18,645. (Genser was hospitalized for much of the final stretch of the campaign.)
  • Feinstein's name appeared at the top of the ballot, the result of a drawing that determines placement based on an alternate alphabetical listing. The top placement is widely viewed as accounting for at least one percent of a candidate's vote total.
  • In addition to SMRR's well-oiled army of campaign workers, Feinstein counted on Green Party members to help push for his candidacy.

Supporters also attribute Feinstein's impressive showing -- particularly in homeowner areas -- to a pro-open space and anti-development message that resounded across the traditional homeowner-tenant divide.

"SMRR's strategies are pretty known," said Sharon Gilpen, who was one of Feinstein's top campaign consultants, referring to the group's emphasis on tenant issues. "We went where they didn't penetrate as well."

"The slow-growth movement that helped spawn my local political activism in the late 80s and early 90s used to be in the political minority both within SMMR and within the city at large," Feinstein said. "Now people in all political camps are acutely aware of the negative impacts of over-development in our quality of life."

Feinstein finished only six votes behind Bloom, who is a homeowner, on the fellow SMRR candidate's home turf in Sunset Park, garnering 3,160 votes to 3,166 for Bloom, who was founder and president of Friends of Sunset Park. Genser finished third with 2,736 votes, followed by Katz -- who, like Bloom, owns a home in Sunset Park -- with 2,639.

While Feinstein finished second to Katz in the wealthy environs North of Montana, he finished ahead of Rob Ross, who was counting on a strong showing in an area of town dominated by homeowners. (Ross finished a distant fifth in the race with a total of 10,266 votes, despite having the most money spent on his candidacy.)

Steve Alpert, a long-time SMRR political analyst, noted that the organization's showing in the homeowner enclave was stronger than at any other time in its history. Alpert credited a state law that went into full effect two years ago that allows landlords to charge what the market will bear for voluntarily vacated rent controlled units.

"That polarization is dissolving. Rent control is much less an issue with homeowners," Alpert said. "The reason there wasn't this polarization was rent decontrol. It took the steam out of it. Homeowners don't feel picked on."

While both Katz and Ross finished ahead of the mayor in the five precincts in the northeast end of town (Santa Monica's most expensive real estate), Feinstein bettered Bloom in eight of the 10 North of Montana precincts and Genser in all of the precincts, including the former mayor's own.

In tenant strongholds long dominated by SMRR, Feinstein also consistently outpaced his fellow slate members by hundreds of votes, sweeping every precinct in the Wilshire-Montana, Pico, Ocean Park and downtown neighborhoods.

In the Wilshire Montana precincts -- the L.A. area's most densely populated neighborhood outside of West Hollywood, thanks to a concentration of large apartment buildings -- Feinstein finished first with 5,085 votes, followed by Bloom with 4,634, Genser with 4,323 and Katz with 2,727.

The mayor also easily won in his home turf of Ocean Park (the birthplace of the rent control movement) with 3,874 votes to Bloom's 3,432, Genser's 3,252 votes and Katz's 1,921. In addition, Feinstein swept all three downtown precincts with 634 votes, followed by Bloom with 528, Genser with 486 votes and Katz with 341.

In the Pico neighborhood -- long neglected by SMRR, which has never fielded a council candidate from the area -- Feinstein garnered 3,360 votes, followed by Bloom, with 2,964 votes, Genser, with 2,639, and Katz, with 1,750.

Feinstein's longstanding support of labor and command of Spanish may have contributed to his strong showing in the city's poorest and most racially diverse neighborhood, which was a focus of his campaign.

"I walked more days going door to door in Pico more than any other neighborhood," Feinstein said. "I felt of all the neighborhoods this has been the one paid attention to less (by the City). I felt being there in person sent a strong message.

"One of my priorities in these next few years is to address the quality of life issues that are prevalent in that neighborhood," Feinstein said. "And I really wanted to start out on the right foot in that neighborhood."

Feinstein also won in the Mid City Neighborhood, although of the area's eight precincts, Katz picked up the two with large homeowner populations (in the neighborhood's northeast side). Feinstein won the Mid City area with 2,488 votes, followed by Bloom with 2,262, Genser with 1,879 and Katz with 1,869.

(Note: Precincts do to not always fall within a neighborhood's boundary, which is based on the jurisdictions outlined on the City's Web site. Several precincts, for example, fall within two separate neighborhoods. We have chosen to place a divided precinct in the neighborhood that incorporates the largest part of that precinct. In addition, despite double checking numbers, some total vote counts were slightly off from the official results. The numbers, however, are an accurate reflection of how the top candidates fared in the different parts of the city.)

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